Education committee passes twin tuition programs
By Richard Lee
Texas Senate News
TWO MAJOR bills passed out of senate committees this week, including Larry Taylor’s school-choice legislation, senate bill 3, and the state budget, SB 1.
Education committee chair Taylor’s bill, which passed out of the committee on Thursday, seeks the creation of two programs to help parents pay for private-school tuition.
The first would use state money, allowing parents to apply for and receive a portion of the cost of educating their child in a public school for a year, which is around $9,000.
If the bill becomes law, the exact amount of the subsidy will depend on financial aid and disability status but it will range from 60 per cent to 90 per cent.
The second program would be funded by private donations in exchange for tax credits to create scholarships for private-school tuition.
Those scholarships would be limited to 75 per cent of the yearly cost to educate a child in public school and would be open to at-risk students such as those in special education or foster care.
Meanwhile, the senate’s finance committee unanimously approved SB 1, which seeks expenditure of more than $106 billion in 2018 and 2019 for state services, almost three billion dollars more than the original draft of the bill filed in January.
Committee chair Jane Nelson praised members for their hard work and for finding efficiencies in the way the state pays for many services, including health care and university spending.
She said: “We put several issues under a magnifying glass and not only did we come up with efficiencies and savings, in many cases I think we were able to improve the way we deliver services”.
She said she intends to present the budget before the full senate for a vote on Tuesday.
The senate will reconvene tomorrow, Monday, at 2:00pm.
Tax-cuts law on way to house
THE SENATE this week passed two bills intended to reduce the tax burden on Texas property owners and businesses, pleasing chamber president lieutenant governor Dan Patrick, who has made tax reform a priority this session.
One was senate bill 2, which seeks to cut the amount property tax can be increased before invoking a rollback election from eight per cent to five percent.
The other was SB 17, which seeks to kill off the business franchise tax.
Before the session began, Patrick commissioned a statewide traveling interim committee to study the issue of rising property taxes.
He designated the legislation arising from that study senate bill 2, indicating it as one of his highest priorities for the session. Before the bill passed on Tuesday, its author and interim committee chair senator Paul Bettencourt of Houston said property-tax growth is out of control, telling his peers: “We need real reform now. Homeowners pay in many cases eight, nine, ten per cent more a year and many commercial-property owners are paying 15 to 20 per cent more per year, year after year.”
To rein in that growth, SB 2 would lower the threshold to trigger a rollback election. Under current law, if a taxing entity raises taxes more than eight per cent in a year, taxpayers can gather signatures to petition for a rollback election.
That lets voters decide whether they agree with the tax hike and, if not, it pushes the rate back to a calculated rollback rate. SB 2 would reduce the trigger to five per cent and would make the election automatic. It also moves the date of any rollback election to the uniform election date in November.
Also passed on Tuesday, Flower Mound senator and finance committee chair Jane Nelson’s SB 17 intends to gradually end the franchise tax by dedicating revenue to buying down the rate in years with strong growth in state revenues.
Under the measure, in years when the revenue grows by at least five per cent over the previous biennium, half of the amount collected above five per cent would be used to reduce the franchise tax rate.
Nelson told members that will create a roadmap for ending the tax completely, saying: “Many of us would love to see the franchise tax go away altogether and, under this legislation, we put it on a glide path to elimination.”
Both measures are now heading to the house of representatives for consideration.